Turning underwater is an important water safety skill. Here the baby learns to turn to safety – either the parent, ledge or side of the pool. In some swim schools this skill is initially introduced with a Humpty Dumpty song. As baby grows with age and physical capabilities they will learn to turn underwater and climb out at the side of the pool. While babies and young children must always be supervised in and around water, the ability to turn provides another layer of protection. Many parents who have been taking their child to regular swimming lessons have reported that this skill has proven to be vital for safety. A common scenario is an accidental submersion where a child slips or falls in to a body of water such as a pool, lake or pond, and the child has instinctively turned around and climbed out. Remember no child is drown proof but we do want to establish as many barriers to protect our children as possible. The ability to swim is the child’s last chance if the other barriers of pool fencing and supervision are compromised.
Prerequisite to turning
Turning requires vertical submersion and for this reason babies must have good breath control before we introduce this swimming skill. If the child does not have good breath control water can be easily forced up the nose causing discomfort and distress. For this reason make sure horizontal submersions and floating skills have been well established before introducing turning. If baby has been attending regular swimming lessons and parent is practising bath time conditioning daily, baby may be ready to perform turning as early as 8 to 12 months of age. It will be a long time before the child is capable of turning and climbing out of the pool independently however we can start the learning process. If you are only just commencing swimming lessons don’t worry – remember, it’s not a race. Learning to swim is a life skill for fun, fitness, health and safety. Regular exposure is the key and children can learn quickly if they get lots of water play. But remember they will also lose confidence and their capabilities if you stop taking them to the pool.
Types of turns
There are many different types of turns that we can incorporate into the swimming lesson. Initial turns are simply done to the caregiver. Here baby learns to turn underwater and independently pull up on caregivers t-shirt. We always encourage baby to pull up on a t-shirt or side of the pool rather than being picked up because we want to encourage their independence. Encouraging independence helps to teach children their capabilities in the water.
Turning can also be performed at a shallow ledge or step where they submerge from the ledge, go down and turn around and then return to safety. Here the child can rest in between submersions and have shallow water play and exploration. This shallow water play is actually vital for the child to develop an understanding of deep and shallow water. Under the parents guidance baby will learn their capabilities and enjoy playing in shallow water and even show caution as they wait for the parents cue to venture into deep water. Turning to a deck level pool or a high wall will further develop the turning skill. As the child’s physical capabilities grow they will compete the full progression by turning and climbing out of the pool independently.
Build the turning skill
Like all learn to swim skills, turning requires us to follow a building block approach. We should follow a progressive approach not only in the types of turns that we introduce but the micro skills within each type of turn. By building skills we can develop confidence and independence in the child and this results in them mastering the skill quickly and easily.
1. Turn to adult
2. Turn to a shallow ledge/step and pull up
3. Turn to a deep ledge/step and stand up
4. Turn to deck level
5. Turn to high wall
6. Swim in 2 planes (turn in the middle of the pool and swim back to the pools edge)
Remember the pool design will also impact the types of turns you can do. For example there could be a rail for children to turn to. The teacher may even teach children to turn and climb up on a floating mat or turn/roll over and float if the side is too high to reach.
Building block approach
1. Full assisted turn, parent picks up the child (left and right turn)
2. Full assisted turn, child pulls up on the parents t-shirt
3. Half unassisted turn (child is facing the side and only has a short distance to turn)
4. Full unassisted turn back to the adult
5. Start with shallow submersions and build towards deep underwater turns
Turning is a great water safety skill to practice. We really want to “condition” children to return to safety. It’s like planning for an emergency. The more we practice the better because it will become an automatic response and avoid panic if a difficult situation does arise. In lesson familiar environments it’s a good idea to practice entries and exits. For example steep drop offs at the beach, creek or river can surprise a child and get them into a dangerous situation. Doing a few down turn arounds with a step up can be helpful to get them used to the new environment. Remember no one is drown proof but learning to swim certainly does give the best possible chance to children of all ages. Do not become complacent with supervision because drowning is a silent killer. Caregivers should develop in children not only a love for but a respect for the water.